Irish Luck

This is a picture of the coast of Northern Ireland. My Ireland trip was probably the most successful and fun yet, tied with Barcelona, which was also amazing. So many things towards the beginning of the trip could have gone horribly wrong, but we had some major Irish luck on our side, and everything went as smooth as pie.

So we flew out Friday night to Dublin. It had been quite a crazy day for me, since I’d taken a SIX HOUR chamber of commerce test to hopefully certify me in ‘business french’ (whatever that means). It involved running around Paris and two separate oral components in which you had to speak in front of a French person. Crazy! Also, I’d barely gotten any sleep all week because of finals. This is all to say that I was exhausted by the time my friend Anna and I got on our plane.

We were planning to take the train north to Belfast the next morning, where we’d meet Anna’s aunt and uncle. Anna had set up a couchsurf for us to do Friday night in Dublin, so that we wouldn’t have to pay for a hostel. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, there’s this website called where you find people who agree to let you sleep on their couch for free. Long story short, since our plane arrived at midnight in Dublin, it was a bit of a crazy (and at times, scary) mess making our way to this stranger’s house, but it essentially worked out just fine in the end. The condo where we were sleeping belonged to a Swedish girl, a Brazilian guy, and a Lithuanian guy. They were all incredibly nice. I had this moment as I was falling asleep on their couch where I was just momentarily floored by how bizarre it was, that I was there, in Ireland, in a house full of strangers. How often in life do you find yourself in a situation like that?

So Anna and I left feeling pretty adventuresome. More precisely, we left at about 6am to catch our train, which meant we were even more exhausted than before. I won’t bother listing for you all of the things that almost went wrong in the beginning of our trip, one of them being that Anna forgot to print or write down the reference number of her train ticket, but just know that there were about ten different instances on Friday and Saturday when everything almost went terribly, but actually ended up being just fine. Irish luck, I swear. However, because I was still reeling from the greek tragedy, I almost had a heart attack every time a new traveling problem came up. But no matter.

In Belfast we met up with Anna’s insanely cool young aunt and uncle, and from there we all drove to a small town called Bushmills on the coast of Northern Ireland. We stayed in this adorable and spacious barn-turned-cottage house. During our three days in the north, we went on a beautiful coastal hike that involved a swinging rope bridge (pictured), explored the Giants Causeway, and of course toured the Bushmills whiskey distillery. Anna’s uncle is a professional photographer and therefore took us to all of the most photogenic spots.

We drove down all together back to Dublin, where Anna and I spent the remaining three days on our own. We spent one of those days going on a tour of Glendalough and Wicklow national park, where we saw a 6th century monastery (St. Kevin’s). Our time in the city of Dublin was also really fun – we covered the city on foot, toured the giant seven-floor “Guinness experience,” ate in pubs, tasted all the Irish beers, admired the churches, listened to Irish music (which we both loved). Exhausted and happy, we left vowing to return to Ireland in the very near future.

Tomorrow I’m spending the day in London! Can’t wait. 🙂

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Sofia, Bulgaria

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

I’m really unsure how to write a blog on my trip to Bulgaria. First of all, I kind of waited too long, so I forget exactly what we did in what order (oops). I thought maybe I’d start by describing my various “wow, I’m in Bulgaria” moments.

The first WIIB moment I had was when Kami’s 35-year-old brother picked us up at the airport. He was a really nice and cool guy. On the way back to his house (where we were staying), he casually mentioned that he had bought a secret service badge online, and whenever cops pull him over for speeding, he shows it to them, and they salute him and let him go scot-free. He even showed the badge to us, and I can’t read Bulgarian, but it did look pretty legit. This is probably pretty useful because his was some of the most dangerous driving I’ve ever experienced (sorry mom and dad). Furthermore, Kami laughed at me when I put my seatbelt on in the backseat. She swore that even as a child she’d never seen anyone put a seatbelt on in the backseat (she was born and lived for a while in Bulgaria).

Bulgaria was just so… Bulgarian. It was very different in strange little ways. I felt like I was getting a pretty authentic experience, which was what I’d been hoping for, since I was staying with Bulgarians who were all speaking Bulgarian constantly and eating Bulgarian food all the time and everything. Also Sophia (the capital) is literally tourist-free, which was a nice change.

I even learned some Bulgarian words. My favorite is “Sitchki!” which means “Everyone!” and is what the musicians would shout in all the piano bars we went to. Going to piano bars was a really cool experience. The musicians were great. There were two types of these kind of bars: the ones where they played all the best 70s and 80s hits, and the ones where they played exclusively Bulgarian and Turkish music. Both were really fun. Bulgarian music sounds very middle eastern to my ignorant ears. Middle eastern, but over club beats, so we could still dance to it.

Inside the Russian Church

But back to WIIB moments. Another one happened on Saturday night, when we were at various piano bars until sunrise. Let me tell you, Kami and I do not usually party that hard, and we were very tired by the end of it. But anyway, at around 6am, we went with her brother and his friends to a restaurant, which was oddly enough open at this hour. Crazy! Her brother put in our order (this was another weird Bulgarian thing – the waiter would just look to the like main man in the group and he would order for everyone, sometimes without any kind of discussion beforehand) and he ordered us jugs of this yogurt drink. It was like a really thin sour plain yogurt that you pour salt into, and then drink from a straw. Quite foreign. The coolest part for me was realizing they weren’t purposefully doing Bulgarian things to show them to me – they really do just eat and drink weird Bulgarian things all the time.

Oh and even though my parents will mock me for being such a foodie, I must tell you more about Bulgarian food! It was incredible. I feel like I should just list things that I ate.

  • Strawberries with raw honey from Kami’s cousin
  • Different types of baclava (so good)
  • Platters of assorted grilled meats
  • This perfect salad called a Shopska that was just cucumbers, really ripe tomatoes, and a pile of this grated feta-like cheese that was so good. Kami and I ate this for lunch almost every day. (Salads without lettuce are really ideal in my book.)
  • This croissant-like bread-pastry that was stuffed with the same feta-like cheese. There were little restaurants that only sold this one food, that’s how popular it is.

In summary, all of the Bulgarian food was really delicious. Who knew?

This week is finals week so I should probably go study for those. Bummer. Then it’s off to Ireland! Then Steven comes to visit Paris! Then I have a short trip to London that I just booked! The fun just won’t quit!!!

Oh, and at some point we saw a traditional Bulgarian dance in which people danced barefoot on hot coals. (!)

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A Greek Tragedy

Our trip to Greece was quite a failure, and even though it’s an embarrassing story and most of you readers know it already, I feel like I should blog about it. For venting purposes, or something.

Kami, on Tuesday, day 2 of traveling troubles.

Our story begins on Monday early afternoon, when we were supposed to be on a plane to the Greek island of Santorini. We arrive at the airport in plenty of time, dressed in our best island-hopping wear. We get to the check-in desk, only to realize that… I don’t have my passport. Terrible. I feel TERRIBLE. There isn’t time to go 1+hour back home and get it, so I have to pay to change our flights to the next day. Thankfully for me, Kami is almost certainly the best possible person to be with in this situation because she is unfailingly positive and forgiving.

We head home to get some lunch. The tragic image I’ll keep in my head for a long time involves the two of us sprinting through what has become a torrential downpour in our island clothes, thoroughly unprepared for the terrible weather we thought we were escaping.

The next day. The same airport. We board the plane without a hitch. I’m seated next to this hilarious young Greek couple and already having a good time. BUT THEN. An announcement comes on that part of the engine is broken (usually they give some sort of euphemism, so that was already weird.) We unboard, and wait around near the gate. Long story short, our plane is delayed for NINE HOURS. And we aren’t given a chance to go home, because we keep waiting for the next announcement, which comes about every hour.

So we eat in the airport restaurant with a voucher, play I-Spy, try to keep our spirits up. As an added bonus, CDG seems to be the only airport without internet, so we really can’t find anything to do. Because of the delay, we miss our connection in Athens to Santorini, and the next flight to Santorini isn’t until the next morning (Wednesday). This is already a really sad situation, because our flight to Bulgaria on a different airline is on Thursday. The airline puts us up in the airport hotel in Athens, and we arrive there at about 2am. We set both of our alarms and go to sleep for about 5 hours.

The next morning. We go for a nice complimentary breakfast downstairs (literally making me sick to think about it). We cross the street to the airport. We find our flight on the board, and – “FINAL CALL.” I immediately realize what’s happened – we didn’t change our clocks to greek time. We sprint to the gate, which is far away. Too far away. When we get there, the man tells us that if we’d been there ONE minute earlier, we would have made it. This is the point of the trip where we cry uncontrollably, one at a time (I go first).

So what we got from our trip to Greece was one afternoon and night in Athens, and ten years off of our lives. And we did make the best of it. We saw the Acropolis, which was very cool. Overall though, a terrible experience. Hopefully I at least learned something from it.

At the Acropolis

We flew to Bulgaria on Thursday and had a much nicer time (I’ll blog about that soon!!!).

Sorry for the downer blog! Just needed to get it all out there.

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I got back from Avignon last night. Sadly now I’m sick (fever, nothing terrible) so it’s lucky that I just have some free time in Paris for the next week (yay Spring Break!).

However I had two great trips since I last blogged. The first was Prague.

I went to Prague for Easter weekend with my friend Kami. Our hostel, the Czech Inn (haha), ended up being surprisingly nice (I’m learning they’re very hit or miss and it’s hard to know ahead of time!). The weather was not so nice – freezing and rainy the whole time. But that didn’t stop us from having fun. We were there for three full days.

One of my favorite things we did was walk across Charles Bridge (above). There were some gorgeous views, interesting statues, and street performers with marionettes or folksy bands. Other highlights of Prague included eating delicious kielbasa on the street, drinking great cheap Czech beer, and walking around the beautiful Old Town area.

Above is the amazing astronomical clock in Old Town. All of Old Town sort of looked and felt like Disneyland, in a good way. We found a great Czech restaurant called U Bulino thanks to a tip from one of the hostel guys, and we loved it so much that we went there a ridiculous number of times. We were sharing a hostel room with this French Canadian couple who were really polite. Their French sounded so weird to us though, we could barely decipher it. Kami was a great traveling buddy and we kept each other laughing and having a great time all weekend. I’m excited for our next adventure together in Greece, Bulgaria and (hopefully) Istanbul next week!

I think I’m gonna save Provence for another blog a little later because I’m tired and sick feeling.

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Weekend in the Alps

This weekend was my NYU overnight trip to Annecy. It was gorgeous there and we had a great time.

These photos were taken by my friends. Sadly my camera was dying so I didn’t get too many great ones myself.

Because of all the water, Annecy is called “The Venice of Savoie.” It’s located in Haute-Savoie, which is a department within the region of RhĂ´nes-Alpes. Annecy used to be a part of Geneva, which is why we spent the weekend eating SO. MUCH. CHEESE. I’m not kidding. It was incredible. NYU scheduled two different cheese tastings, as well as a fondue dinner. Lunches were on our own, where we obviously tried the local specialities – all cheese based.

The cheese tasting pictured above, at a goat farm, was serious business. We were encouraged to take as much cheese as we wanted. All four goat cheese varieties and the bread were made in home, and the other cow cheeses were from other small farms around Annecy. I should take a second to note that all of this cheese, and all of the cheese I’ve been eating in France, is unpasteurized. I have yet to get sick! The cheese tasting was accompanied by a glass of local hard cider. To top it off, after we were all stuffed to the brim with the most delicious cheeses, we were served a homemade brioche with homemade black currant jam. To die for!

At the very same goat farm, we learned a little about cheese making, milked goats, and had goat’s milk squirted into our mouths directly from the udder. I felt like I was in a secret crazy utopia in the mountains.

Annecy lake (above) was a beautiful turquoise. The water was, however, freezing. But that didn’t stop us from jumping in! On Saturday we went out on the lake in paddle boats and took a quick invigorating dip.

That’s Annecy at night – in the center of the river is a medieval prison.

These pictures are so nice I just got worried you guys would think they’re stock photos. They’re not. 🙂

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I had a really great time in Barcelona this past weekend. And also a super busy week since then.

In non-Barcelona news, I got this really cool language exchange partner! I signed up with this program through the Sorbonne, and now I meet with this French student named Morgane once a week. We spend half the time speaking in French and half in English. It’s been a fantastic experience so far, she is super friendly and nice. She’s doing her Master’s in English so her English is better than my French, and that’s a little intimidating, but I work through the embarrassment. We did a music exchange, and it was really funny to see which anglophone bands she knew and which she’d never heard of. Basically any ‘indie’ music was totally new to her (Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire etc), but she ‘loves’ the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which apparently all the hip French kids call “Red Hot,” which was funny to me.

But back to Barcelona. Most of my weekend you can see from my album on facebook, so I’ll just try to fill in the holes. I got there Thursday night no problem. Steven, ever the gracious host, had made this super delicious beef stew for dinner. I was impressed. Later we met three of his friends at a bar that was distinctly un-Parisian and I loved it. Everything was crazy cheap! They were serving up whatever cocktail you wanted in these giant plastic cups for 4 euro. I realized how lucky it was that I had Steven to translate/order for me, because otherwise I would’ve felt like a fool all weekend. Furthermore it was really cool that he knew all of the best places to go in the city. And that he hosted me in his apartment for free. Really this is just a shout-out to Steven for being such a great friend.

The next day, Friday, was full of tons of Barcelona highlights and basically covering the city on foot. We walked so much. I can’t express that enough. We saw the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell and such, as you can see from my pictures. It was a perfect sunny 60’s day and I got a little sunburnt, but in a nice, “oh finally sun is on my skin!” kind of way. We ate a lot of Bueno bars. The next day, aside from everything you can see in my pictures, we also watched a Barça soccer game in a bar, which was cool. They were only playing Seville though so it wasn’t a crazy game. We also strolled through the Barrio Gothico which was so cool. We had gelato twice. (We did so many things, that’s why I’m not even mentioning everything I have pics of) It was a really jam-packed weekend of fun. So much so that when my plane home ended up being 4 hours delayed on Sunday, I just waited in the airport and couldn’t even get upset about it. Probably that was partially due to exhaustion.

Monday, I gave a presentation in French on the deportation of Jewish people under Vichy. Tuesday was my friend Anna’s 21st, and to celebrate we all went to this charming French restaurant where we spent way too much money but had a really good time. It was a typical 4-hour experience. I had this barbecue pork that I’m still thinking about. Also I tried escargot and was not into it. Something about the texture? Definitely psychological.

Wednesday, I met with Morgane at the other end of Paris at the Bibliotheque Francois Mitterand, which is not a free library malheureusement. It’s very beautiful from the outside though, and we went to the giant park next door and walked around. The architecture was so different over there that it didn’t feel like we were still in Paris. Later that night, I went to a Feist concert with my friends Kami and Jess. It was great!

Tonight was another 4-hour dinner chez moi with my host family and my roommate’s parents who were visiting. I’m getting up at – get this – 6:30 tomorrow morning to try and go to Normandy with NYU. I’m not guaranteed the trip because I’m already signed up for Annecy next weekend but I figured I’d try my luck? I’m pretty wiped out though so maybe I should just sleep in… Hard decisions.

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This Friday I was lucky enough to take a day trip to Epernay, the capital of the Champagne region, with my friend Anna.

We were both really excited to be taking the train, since we hadn’t done that yet. It was a hour long ride and it couldn’t have been a more beautiful day for exploring the countryside.

We’d originally wanted to see both Reims and Epernay, but because of train schedules, couldn’t fit them both into one day. We decided on Epernay, the less touristy of the two, mostly because we booked a tour of the champagne caves of MoĂ«t et Chandon, and because we were looking for a quaint town – which is exactly what we found. (Also did you know how “Reims” is pronounced? Because if not, I bet you couldn’t guess!)

A lot of the day was spent just walking around. We felt like we pretty much mastered the town by the end of the day, since it’s really pretty small. One of our first stops was lunch at a brasserie, where we had quite the culinary adventure. We both ordered two different plats du jour, which we knew were veal. What we didn’t know was that Anna ordered “head of veal,” which honestly looked like cow brains in a cream sauce on a plate. It also looked raw. Mine was a sort of bloody sausage, also raw, but for some reason covered in cooked chicken. Although unfortunate for our appetites, it was a pretty hilarious lunch.

The champagne tour was definitely cool. We learned a little about how it’s made and visited the caves, and the tasting after the tour was my favorite part. It took place in a fancy parlor. Unfortunately I didn’t purchase any champagne – next time, when I return to Paris after I’ve made it big…

I did however purchase a few delicious champagne-flavored truffles. Totally good. We took the last train home at 8:30.

I guess I have to do homework now… bummer. I am, however, getting really excited for my trip to Barcelona next weekend! Stay tuned.

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Paris Love List

Here is a list of things I haven’t blogged about that I love about Paris and my semester abroad so far, because I love both lists and Paris.

  • Grocery store desserts and yogurts in glass containers
  • Sleepy rainy sundays when my friends and I don’t feel guilty for being lazy and antisocial
  • Planning trips (Champagne region Friday, Barcelona next week, Prague in April, Ireland in May)
  • People who hold doors for you in metro stations (all French people)
  • Tomato soup (staple of my diet) (with shredded emmental cheese on it) (so good)
  • Weird flavors of chips like Roast Turkey and Thyme (verdict: pretty good but also weird)
  • Beer
  • Having real American coffee for the first time in much too long and being jittery all day afterward
  • Street crepes, especially ham and cheese
  • Studying with Kami in the Marais
  • Crunchy speculoos (cinnamon cookie spread, I’ll bring some back so you can all try it)
  • This American-style cafĂ© called Kooka Boora in Montmartre
  • When Catherine and I went to Les Deux Magots, (the famous haunt of Hemingway, Sartre, Picasso etc, which has since become an overpriced tourist hub)… only to use their bathroom

But am I experiencing the “real Paris”? Who knows what that is. There are a lot of things I still want to do here, like go to the flea market at Clignancourt and visit Shakespeare & Co.

With any luck I’ll have a ticket to Ireland in May (Dublin and Belfast) purchased by tomorrow! Going with my friend Anna, can’t wait.

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Living in Paris: it doesn’t get old!

So I started to write about all the things I did with my mom and Henry when they visited, and then I realized there was really too much to write about. But feel free to see all the pictures I took while they were here on my facebook!

One of my favorite things we did was go to the Jardin de Luxembourg and watch a French puppet show. It was so cool. First of all, I was expecting it to be touristy. Little did I know, classy Parisian children actually go to these puppet shows on the regular. We were the only tourists in attendance! The kids interact with the show a lot, and in that way it reminded me of seeing Rocky Horror or The Room in New York, except way cuter and French-er. Henry was a really good sport considering the show was entirely in French – it was Little Red Riding Hood though, so it wasn’t too hard to follow.

One of the best parts of having Mom and Henry visit was that it reminded me of how many things there are to do here. We did Versailles, the catacombs, climbed the Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur…and I came home and made a list of all things I still want to do before the end of the semester! Paris is really an incredible city and their visit reminded me to keep exploring different parts of it.

I have officially decided it is spring in Paris. Today had a high of 54 degrees! Needless to say, I refuse to wear my winter coats from here on out.

I was also lucky enough to see my high school friend Roy this past Friday night. He and his girlfriend came over for dinner, and my host grandfather opened up a bottle of champagne for us. He was quite cute about it! He doesn’t speak much English, and Roy doesn’t speak French, so conversation was a little difficult. Later Roy showed me this fantastic bar in the Latin Quarter called Chez Georges, where they play almost exclusively old French music and the place is so tiny that everyone dances on the tables (and sings along, of course). I also had my first real crepe that night! So buttery and delicious. Don’t know how I made it this long without buying a crepe…

My first midterm is tomorrow, oh dear. I guess I’ll go study for that!

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Macarons et MusĂ©es, Oh My!

Some weekends are just too busy to blog about everything, so this time I’m going to focus on the events of this past Friday, a nonstop crazy lovely day. I was so happy to finally be reunited with my friend Sam, who visited from London for an extra-long weekend (the lucky guy only has classes Mondays and Tuesdays!). He just left a couple hours ago.

Remember how I wrote about starving in Paris a few weeks ago? You should know that is no longer happening. Anyway, Friday started when I met Sam for brunch at Breakfast in America in the Marais. The Marais is so far my favorite neighborhood in Paris, it’s just so lively and cute. Breakfast in America is a popular American diner-esque restaurant with lines down the block. Surprisingly (or maybe not at all surprisingly), it’s packed full with French people and void of tourists. Sam and I went from there to Pierre HermĂ©, aka the most wonderful place in the world.

Now let me first tell you that I’ve never been crazy about French macarons. Like, they are usually pretty good, but I never understood why they’re so trendy right now. All of this changed on Friday. Sam and I enjoyed a couple of Pierre HermĂ©’s fat, perfect little macarons by the fountain in the Tuileries, and even though it was cold, it was just about heavenly.

Pierre HermĂ©’s macarons are softer and more filled than other macarons. Recall that I tried a LadurĂ©e macaron with Trinh a couple weeks ago, and it was delicious, but it didn’t rock my world. LadurĂ©e and Pierre HermĂ© are the two big macaron rivals here in Paris.

After that we met some other friends at the MusĂ©e d’Orsay, which is hands-down the most enjoyable museum I’ve ever visited. Sadly they don’t allow pictures inside. We managed to sneak just one…

You may already know that the MusĂ©e d’Orsay is located in what used to be a train station. There’s an abundance of natural lighting and all of the artwork is really spaced out. I find it’s easy to get overwhelmed and exhausted by museums (cough Louvre cough), but this one had so much more of a relaxed vibe to it. It helped that everyone I was with had studied in Paris last semester so they knew a lot about the museum and basically gave me a fabulous tour.

Afterwards we went on a walk at sunset. The Seine was looking beautiful. We then got gelato (don’t laugh!), and later I went to a party at my friend Anna’s apartment. All in all a pretty perfect Parisian day.

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